We want classic and memorable games in this forum,
and I believe this game will be remembered for a very
In 23 attempts over 41 years, not one British side had
ever won in the Estadio do Dragao, Portugal.
Manchester United had the unenviable task of becoming
the first. It was a case of win or go home and watch
the rest of the Champions League on the TV. A big,
big European night, lots of pressure on the team and
the odds against them. Oh how I know Sir Matt was
watching this game. I bet the Belshill Boy had a wry
old smile on his face too.
My nerves were shot to bits an hour before kick off.
I was pacing up and down until finally, we were under
It took just six minutes for Cristiano Ronaldo to show
how special he really is. A 40 yard drive that flew into
the back of the net before anyone had a chance to
even see it. I've seen some unbelievable goals in my
time but that one came right out of the top drawer.
It gave United a 1-0 lead on the night and a 3-2
advantage on aggregate which they clung to for dear
Manchester United had become the first British side
to win at the Estadio do Dragao and their reward was
an all-Premier League semi-final against Arsenal.
After a month of shambolic defending and uncertainty,
this was the solid, secure United that earlier this
season set a record number of consecutive Premier
League clean sheets.
Rio Ferdinand must take much credit for this on his
return from a groin injury. While he did not have an
outstanding game individually, his constant commun-
ication appeared to imbue his colleagues with imp-
roved positional sense and confidence.
Nemanja Vidic, in particular, looked much improved
from his poor displays against Liverpool, Sunderland
and the first leg against Porto.
Porto fielded the same starting 11 that performed so
admirably at Old Trafford a week earlier, but were
without their charismatic coach Jesualdo Ferreira,
who served a touchline ban.
The punishment was the result of a misguided
appeal against a sanction from earlier in the comp-
etition, and Ferreira opted not even to turn up to
the stadium, leaving his assistant Jose Gomez to
his own devices.
United failed to control the first leg, allowing Porto
to snatch a late 2-2 draw, but grabbed the return
fixture by the scruff of the neck. Or rather, Ronaldo
did. He had been widely criticised for performing
below his best last season, but for all the carping
he remained a fairly useful player - if not the world's
best, then certainly still in the top 3. He finished
on 28 goals last season and lost none of his sense
After five minutes of barracking from the Porto
fans - a product of his former association with
rivals Sporting Lisbon - Ronaldo unleashed a fire-
cracker from nearly 40 yards that whooshed past
Helton into the top-left corner.
Take that, naysayers !!!
In an instant, all the angst about Mariano
Gonzalez's late equaliser in the first leg disappeared.
United had regained the aggregate advantage and
could once again lead from the front. Although Porto
improved as the half went on, they were reduced
to half-chances - the best of these came to Bruno
Alves who beat Vidic in the air but sent his header
United fans held their breath when Wayne Rooney
pulled up in pain on 37 minutes after a challenge
The England striker has had a tough history against
Portuguese opponents. He suffered a broken
metatarsal against Portugal at Euro 2004, then
another following a Paulo Ferreira tackle versus
Chelsea in 2006. Then he was sent off - after an
intervention from Ronaldo - for a stamp at that
year's World Cup, again against Portugal.
While United could have been forgiven for fearing
the worst, the 23-year-old hobbled around briefly
before shaking the injury off.
Porto created little in the second half, but the
knowledge that a single home goal would send
the holders out meant jitters crept in.
United have not forgotten the late Costinha goal
that allowed Jose Mourinho's Porto to topple them
in 2004, and the failure to add more breathing
space made for a tense finale.
Edwin van der Sar's horribly bobbled clearance on
82 minutes typified the anxiety, yet in truth he
had little to do except make some routine saves
from Hulk and Lisandro Lopez.
After the pyrotechnics at Stamford Bridge the
night before, this was much more like the tense,
tight Champions League we know.
But United know what it takes to win and did just
enough to set up an all-English semi-final.
[center]"You Can't Win Anything With Kids"
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